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Oh what a tangled web Council has woven for itself

What a mess. The community rightfully protested yesterday outside the Batemans Bay Community Centre to tell Innes and her block of councillors to "Get their hands of it".


How did it come to this? How do Innes, Tait, Nathan, Pollock, Brown and Thomson think they can get away with supporting the staff recommendation that the Community Centre has to be sold because the General Manager says "Maintaining the existing facility would duplicate functions and add operational costs while removing potential sale or lease options, including the revenue arising from such." Back when the Mackay Park Otium Options were first put up Council indicated it was intending to "duplicate functions". Since then every evolution of Council's latest concept plan has downsized all the amenities including community rooms. The only thing they have upsized is the gym that was never part of the original brief. So how did it arrive at Council basically demanding the community vacate their Community Centre on the promise of a single room in the new Centre that doesn't even have a sink. The community have been screwed over and sold out.

The Aquatic Centre debacle and the associated public asset and proposed asset sales or leases, can be traced back to informal discussions at council about what to do if the Batemans Bay Bowling Club should became available and whether Council might consider purchasing it. There was always speculation of how to redevelop the CBD that first started with the 4am demolition of Blandford House, another dark day in this Council's history along with their skullduggery to sell the original Community Centre in Orient Street, pocketing the profit only to be reminded that that they were only trustees on behalf of the community. This revelation forced them to build the new Community Centre that stands today. The old Primary School site made way for Stocklands (now the Village Plaza) and the Council continued to kneejerk its way through one development idea after another with no firm overarching pan for the CBD. To this date they still do not have one so it comes at no surprise that they have failed to recognise the impact that the new Batemans Bay Bridge will have to the commercial precinct. The anticipated loss of passing traffic to the retail providers only adds to their trading woes from the bushfires and Covid. Back in the day of GM's Levy and Anderson a new pool was on the cards at Hanging Rock following widespread community consultation and overall approval. Along came a new GM and the plans for the Hanging Rock pool fell in limbo until it was announced, with no consultation whatsoever, that the new pool would be at Mackay Park.

Council had had their eye on the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site for some time with a view to redevelop the site with a Public/Private development of a multi story seniors living arrangement with a pedestrian link to the Village Centre that would drive a new demand on shops and cafes in the CBD. It would also have a new community centre, an information centre and long haul public transport provisions. The redevelopment of the site would complement and assist with viability of a new indoor heated pool that had long been lobbied for.

Once council acquired the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site everything went pear shaped because no one at council understood what the informal discussions around the purchase were intended to provide for and how they would be funded. When Council first purchased the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site for $2.7m they told everyone they were going to pursue a private/public partnership. But they found no financial backers because Council had no intention of putting any money on the table. The idea of a partnership was flawed. They would own the land and the investors would have some sort of arrangement over the sale/lease of the seniors accommodation. Basically it was a ballsup and not very well thought out from the start. That's when Otium came along, contracted to design a community facility that included a heated pool for the Bowling Club site.

But they had a wider brief delivered that said "why not offer up a second option and include the Batemans Bay pool site as well". In January 2017, Council engaged Otium Planning Group, with the assistance of FDG Architects, Outside the Square Creative Consultants, MRCagney and Turner Townsend Quantity Surveyors, to prepare the following: · Eurobodalla Aquatic Strategy · assessment of preferred arts and cultural facilities within the precinct · concept plan for the precinct · a detailed business case for an aquatic and recreation centre · business case principles for the remainder of the precinct. Two options for the redevelopment of the precinct were developed as follows: · option 1: a combined aquatic and arts and cultural facility on the southern part of the precinct. · option 2: an aquatic facility on the southern part of the precinct and an arts and cultural facility on the northern part of the precinct. The consultant recommended that Council move forward with option 1, being the combined aquatic and arts and cultural facilities in the southern part of the precinct. The following justification was provided: · Option 1 will cost $2.7m less to construct than option · Option 1 provides for a shared management and staffing model that will significantly reduce operating costs – over ten years option 1 will cost $2.97m less to operate than option · Option 1 provides for greater cross-promotion and marketing of events and activities, particularly with the inclusion of the gateway visitor centre. · Option 1 provides for shared infrastructure, services and plant. · Leaving the northern part of the precinct unencumbered increases its value and potential for a public private partnership to deliver the other preferred development outcomes for the precinct. It should be noted that option 2 not only costs more, but does not provide any additional benefits to the community Source: REPORT TO EXTRAORDINARY MEETING OF EUROBODALLA SHIRE COUNCIL HELD ON TUESDAY 29 AUGUST 2017 So Otium were commissioned to also Draft a Eurobodalla Aquatic Strategy that would spell the end of a 50m pool for Batemans Bay. With that document, drafted ready for concurrent approval (with no consultation with the public), the path was clear to kiss goodbye to the Batemans Bay 50m pool and replace it with a 25m pool. The performance and exhibition space initially identified to conduct exhibitions such as Caravan and Camping or art markets was transformed into a arts and cultural space including a theatre. Guiding the arts and cultural brief were Perfex who started as a small group talking among themselves about providing a space where the Visual and Performing Arts and artists could meet, flourish and inspire in a purpose-built and designed performance and exhibition space for artists and performers, both local and visiting. As a volunteer based membership driven organisation they simply had a wish for a space that would be actioned by other groups, event organisers, theatre companies and artists. Much along the lines of "if you build it they will 'hopefully' come, but we have no skin in the game". That remains the state of play with Council now seeking management tenders to run the now endorsed 350 seat theatre whilst Council remains convinced the theatre will attract 32,000 per year to 12 sell out productions per year that will run for 9 nights each. Initially the Councillors were given two options to vote on. Option Two (below) used both of the blocks of land being the Bowling Club for Arts and Community and the swimming pool site for Aquatic and Visitor Centre.

Option One (below), the prefered option, saw all of the facilities moved on to the swimming pool site. The intent to keep the Bowling Club site available for "future development" was more than apparent and many now believe that this had been on the cards in backroom discussions for several years.

Option Two revealed that a very clear move was being made by Council to ensure the Bowling Club site remained viable for a Private/ Public partnership for their idea of seniors or tourism accommodation or for sale to developers to do with as they wished once Council had removed the Recreational Use ONLY caveats of the original parcel that had been donated to the community. By moving everything to the pool site it meant that Council didn't have to buy land as it already owned the swimming pool site. In one swift move Councillors endorsed the Southern Option One and, by default the new Eurobodalla Aquatic Strategy written by consultants Otium with no public consultation, sealing the fate of the 50m pool. Note that the adopted Option One did consider moving the Mini Golf. In the end however as the Centre was redesigned four times over Council felt it was easier to pay out the Mini Golf lease and move them on for an undisclosed amount. Soon after adopting Option One the community discovered that the Bowling Club building had been declared uninhabitable and needed to be demolished. This put an end to the countless submissions that had been called for and offered by the community of what they might like to see on this site. Then fortunately for Council along came the RMS and saved the day because Council had borrowed $2m to buy the site and were now able to charge the RMS rent while the new bridge was being built. The bonus was that the RMS demolished the Bowling Club buildings for free. That then sealed the fate of the Bowling Club site for at least five years. Council were swift however when they purchased the site to classify it as Operational that would allow Council to sell or lease the site in the future without the need for community consultation. The result of adopting Option One was that everything was squeezed onto a smaller area. The 25m pool, heated pool and learn to swim were initially larger, the theatre was 500 seat (now reduced to 350 ), the community use spaces were larger, there was a visitor information and the gym was smaller. In the latest plans the community have not been accommodated with the "duplicate functions" they were initially promised and in realising this while now finding out that Council is hellbent on kicking them out of a highly functioning, financially viable, community owned centre. The centre, owned by the community and built with community funding has a purpose made sprung dance floor, a well used hall, a popular outdoor area, a bespoke commercial kitchen for Meals on Wheels and ample space for meetings with more than adequate carparking, all at ground level. And this is the very centre that the Mayor, Councillors and staff think can be replaced with a single meeting room in the new Mackay Park Centre.

Above:these three rooms are meant to be the "duplicate facilities" that Council says it is going to provide in exchange for the community giving up its community centre (below). Council appears misguided in believing the exchange is like for like.

Image: Batemans Bay Community Centre floor plan (34KB) It is little wonder that 150 community members protested to Council that they do not want council to proceed with its intention to lease or sell their community centre as Council has clearly shortchanged them on promises of "duplicate facilities". There is only one option available to Councilors now. Withdraw on seeking Expressions of Interest to lease a community owned building that the community uses for community purposes and move to reclassify the building as Community so that it can not be handled under delegated authority by staff as an Operational asset to be sold or leased without community consultation. If Council fails to do that then the community will continue to distrust the Council as it has come to do already over the gross mismanagement of this situation that has once again come to a head because of secrecy and exclusion for reasons of greed alone to feed a blowout in the Mackay Park project that still remains unknown whilst Council refuses to make public the Business Case on the grounds that it is "Commercial in Confidence".




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